Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Man and the Little Girl Part 2

The Man and the Little Girl Part 2

      The girl was exposed to actual listening, speaking and reading. That time, she had been attending a Philippine school for 2 years. The girl learned grammar through actual listening, speaking and reading a lot, that's why she was able to apply the grammar rules instinctively. She did not need to dissect the sentence to know which word would fit in the blank. The man, however, had to first study the form of the sentence and all its elements before he could figure out which word was the best answer. And may I please mention that the man started studying English in Junior High School. If we do our Math--- the man had more years of experience in learning English than the girl had, but the girl spoke English a lot more fluently than the man did, not to mention that she was a lot better in answering TOEIC questions. 

      The truth is, a lot of students spend so much time, money and effort memorizing grammar rules and words, that's why when they talk, or when they answer English questions, they mentally dissect the sentence and identify its patterns and modifiers before they answer. Learning the structure of the language is of course very good. And, there are things, such as new words and new expressions, that have to be committed to memory. But again, there has to be something that supplements all these memorized rules and new words. It has been proven so many times that knowledge of grammar, correct usage of vocabulary and even spelling are the direct results of reading. By reading, a student can also develop other skills such as making inferences, paraphrasing, rephrasing, determining cause and effect, and a lot more. Students have to be trained to concentrate on the meaning of what they hear and read, and not just to dissect sentences and enumerate grammar rules which they might not even understand. Too much memorization paralyzes the student's natural ability to process information in his brain on his own.  

     Some students I have talked to, however, raised some points. They claimed that they were trained to memorize and copy everything that their teachers said and wrote. They were not trained to speak. They were trained only to say "yes" to everything that the teacher said. They said that they just wanted to memorize and memorize and memorize and memorize more and more and more words and sentences, and that's it. They said that they're too old to change the way they study English. 

      I understand their point, and I empathize with them, but hey...can we really make another hole by digging the same hole? Can we really expect to produce a different result if we keep on using the same method? 

      Let me conclude by stating two simple rules when studying a language, particularly English: 
        1. Love, or at least like English. 
     2. Be open-minded. Just because a method is widely-used doesn't mean that it's effective.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

The Man and the Little Girl

The Man and the Little Girl

          Long time ago, when I was still working as a private tutor,  there was a foreign student (NOT Japanese) who asked me to teach him TOEIC. I answered in the affirmative, of course.  To determine his level, I gave  him a mock TOEIC exam. One of the questions was:


Customers who need ______lengthy documents over the Internet should have their network connection configured to optimize large data transfers.

A.   receive   B.   to receive.   C.   receiving    D.  reception

          The  student first asked  me to explain the meaning of the word configure. Next, he dissected the sentence:  he underlined the main subject, bracketed the relative clause, determined the verb for the relative pronoun, determined the main verb in the sentence,  dug through his brain cells for the functions of infinitives and he could recall that an infinitive can function as a noun and as a noun, it can function as a subject, an object, or a predicate/complement-- and as a modifier,  an infinitive can modify a noun, an adjective, and an adverb. After a grueling 7 minute-period,  the  man, then in his mid 20s, chose B. Of course, he was right.

          That same day as I was preparing to go home, the landlady's nosy eight-year-old daughter, Hazel, came to me, grabbed my TOEIC book and pretended to be a teacher. Not wanting to spoil her moment, I pretended to be a student. I showed her the same question I asked the man to answer earlier that day. I asked her to teach me the right answer.  Without the slightest hesitation, the girl quickly chose B. When I asked her why she chose B, she raised an eyebrow and said, "You wanna know why?! Because it makes sense!"

          So, what does this show?

          I'm not saying that little girls are better than adults in answering TOEIC questions.

          What, then, am I trying to point across?

                                --to be continued---

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Grammar Rules...and More Grammar Rules

Grammar Rules...and More Grammar Rules

     Another common practice that ACE World wants to break is the constant memorization of so many  grammar rules. This is a practice which is widely accepted by most students and teachers but sadly, this type of instruction has misled students. Let me make it clear that I don't oppose the explicit learning of grammar rules, as there is nothing wrong with the memorization of grammar rules per se.  In fact, learning grammar is a very good way to determine whether or not students are speaking in a standard way.

     However, many language instructors have made the mistake of teaching detailed grammar rules to beginners and intermediate students. This has resulted to the student's hesitance to speak. First, the student recalls the grammar formula. Next, he constructs a sentence based on that formula. These students eventually  memorize rules without knowing how the words and phrases work together to form a sensible sentence. Here is an example of what happens when students are taught grammar formulas:

Teacher:    To construct  Past Continuous sentences  using AS which means "during the time that", simply put As I was +  Verb-ing,  Subject plus Past Simple Verb. Did you get it?

Student:     Yes.

Teacher:    Make your own example, then.

Student:    As I was turning off the light, I fell asleep.

     First of all, grammar means the whole system and structure of a language. In a  sense, grammar describes the structure of a language. Grammar books describe the rules of grammar in very simple ways. These oversimplified rules don't show the student the totality of the language being learned. Some books explain these rules using grammar terminologies and jargon, but this method only makes learning more complicated for a student, as the student has to spend more time and effort understanding and memorizing these rules. Moreover, if we attempt to explain all the aspects or features of English  using rules of DOs and DONT's, we will surely produce volumes and volumes of books.

     Again, this brings me back to the point I previously stated. If one wants to learn how to fly a plane, there has to be a real plane he can operate, and not just the picture of its parts.

     At ACE WORLD, we teach the usage and not just the sets of rules. We train our students to master grammatical rules through usage, until speaking English becomes an instinct for them, like breathing air.

     Learning a language cannot be done by memorization alone. This involves a new way of thinking, new thought patterns and new ways to use the speech organs. To be able to learn a language, a student has to first learn how to think and talk in the language being learned. How, then, can this be done?

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Is Pronunciation Just A Trivial Matter?

What...did you say???!!!

Learning a language is like cutting a path through a thick forest. The more often the path is traversed, the easier the journey becomes. But a literal cutting of a path through a forest poses a lot of challenges. In the same way, traversing the so-called English road poses a lot of challenges and hindrances.

One thing that impedes a student's "English Journey" is the differences in pronunciation. We all use the same speech organs. It's just that, we use them differently. For some students, the sounds of R and L are the same, so this becomes a hindrance for them. It's common for them to say RACE when they really mean LACE. When their teacher dictates the word CLOUD, they write CROWD and vice versa.

To deal with this, is it all right to ask students to identify and memorize the sound symbols? Or is it all right to show them pictures of the different speech organs such as the lungs, the larynx, the vocal folds, and the different articulators, and discuss how each organ produces a sound? This will make learning English pronunciation more tedious and inefficient. How would you feel if you wanted to learn how to swim but your swimming instructor advised you to get a picture of a pool and imagine yourself swimming in it?

In the same manner, isn't it more practical and more efficient if the teacher just pronounces the words and actually shows the student the actual shapes and positions of the lips, the tongue and the other speech organs?

Truly, then, it's not wise to just tell the students the theories. They need actual practice. My Korean friend once told me that in Chinese, the slight change in intonation can entirely change the meaning of a sentence. In English, a slight moving of the tongue backward or a simple pressing of the lips together may cause confusion and embarrassment. Does the speaker really want to talk about the National Erection Day or the National Election Day? Does he want to ROB his girlfriend or does he want to LOVE his girlfriend?  Did he really want to say that he liked the FART of his boss or the PART of his boss? What does he want to talk about, The Boys of America of The Voice of America?

Pronunciation is a thing often regarded by many as a trivial matter. Clearly, this belief is wrong. Our dear students need help in this specific area.  So, then, in addition to showing the students how vowel and consonant sounds are formed, how else should pronunciation be taught?

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Factors That Hinder A Student's Progress in Learning English


-Factors That Hinder A Student's Progress in Learning English

"... English... is the dominant language or in some instances even the required international language of communications, science, information technology, business, seafaring,aviation, entertainment, radio and diplomacy." --Wikipedia

Concise Oxford ENGLISH Dictionary defines language as the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.

          Imagine this: A young man packed his suitcase. He double-checked the amount of money in his bank account. It's his hard earned money and he had been saving it for his future. He hailed a taxi to the airport, got on the plane and soon, the plane was soaring in the air, taking him to a country he had never visited before. On the plane, he checked his guidebook and memorized the address of the English school he was going to attend  for six months. He was excited and nervous at the same time. And why not? He would be learning English. He would be a fluent English speaker, he would get a high TOEIC score, and many companies would be interested in having him work for them. He would make his dreams come true and  his parents would be very proud of him. His future would be brighter.

          When he got to the school, he was made to memorize words he had known since he was seven years old: pen, book, table, chair, bag, carrots, eggs, and the like. What he needed was Business English. He then approached the head of the school and talked to him about the matter. The following day he was made to attend a class which required him to learn and memorize all the grammar rules and memorize and repeat words and sentences from books and magazines, words whose meanings and usage he didn't perfectly understand.  The poor young man was both sad and disappointed.  Were his dreams collapsing in his very hands? 

          When students enroll in an English Language school, they are so full of hope. It is then quite disheartening to see students  having difficulty conveying a simple idea in English despite having spent a lot of time, money and effort in learning the international language. Why? Because unfortunately, a lot of English students today are just made to memorize words from a text, and they are rarely given a chance to think and speak in English.  Such is not the correct way to learn a language. Memorization is good but only to a certain extent, and that is, only if the student is at ground zero. 

         What's more,  a lot of questions answerable by Yes or No can be answered with a Yes or a No without actually saying Yes or No.  

          To prove my point, let’s consider the following examples.

 Conventional Method

A: Can you submit the report by noon?
B: Yes, I can submit the report by noon. 
B: No, I can't submit the report by noon.

A: Do I really need to photocopy the financial report now? 
B: Yes, you really have to photocopy the financial report now.

B: No you don't really need to photocopy the financial report now.

In real-life conversations, some YES-NO questions are answered this way:

A: Can you submit the report by noon?
B: Definitely. (YES)

A: Can you submit the report by noon?
B: I really wish I could.  (NO) 

A: Do I really need to photocopy the financial report now?
B: The boss needs it now. (YES)

A: Would  you like me to photocopy the financial report now?
B:  Just let Eriko take care of it. (NO)

       It is possible  to know what a person is thinking of based on the words he uses. This is called inference. In many business books, business letters and TOEIC exams, inference is often used. The ability to discern the unspoken, the ability to read between, above and below the lines, are therefore an essential part of written and spoken communication.   This ability is possessed only by those who are trained to learn and speak English as their own and not just to memorize grammar rules and tons of words just to pass exams.

          When students are asked to memorize sentences, the speed of their teachers is a lot slower than the speed in a real-life conversation, not to mention that the sentences they are asked to memorize are so oversimplified and one-sided. Also, what the teachers say are customized, or sometimes scripted, so that the student responds using the word or expression taught.    As a result, when the student is exposed to real-life conversations, he is completely lost.  In real-life situations, conversations are not scripted. Ideas, opinions, feelings, suggestions and the like are in the air, waiting to be voiced-out any moment. Situations like this require an on-the-spot, quick, logical and accurate response from the part of the person spoken to.  If a student isn't trained to use English in any given situation, can he really survive in the demanding workplace?


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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

English and the Philippines

“GlobalEnglish Corporation…announced the results of its annual Business English Index, the only index that measures the Business English Proficiency (of non-native English speakers) in the workplace.”
"Only the Philippines attained a score above 7.0, a BEI level within range of a high proficiency that indicates an ability to take an active role in business discussions and perform relatively complex task.”

The sentences quoted above are actually excerpts of a news article that circulated a few days ago. Yes, with a total of 108,000 test takers from 76 countries, the Philippines, with a score of 7.11, topped the exam and was thus declared as the best country in terms of Business English Proficiency. (The test, I would like to clarify, was given only to non-native English speakers.)

One might wonder how the Philippines, a small Southeast Asian country often pictured as a dangerous and poor country, emerged as the champion in this field.
 It is common for anybody to ask himself the following questions:  Where in the world is the Philippines? How did the Filipinos learn to speak English? Do they speak standard English? If the Filipinos speak English well, can they teach the language, too?

               It is understandable why people get skeptical at times. After all, the Philippines has always been presented by foreign media as nothing but a country plagued by poverty and violent crimes, often stricken by earthquakes, typhoons, floods, volcanic eruptions, landslides and the like. Well, these disasters don’t happen every day, and it is a fact that even in most advanced countries, crimes do happen. This article then shows the other side of this beautiful nation which is often regarded as The Pearl of the Orient Seas. 

The Philippines is an archipelago made up of more than 7,000 islands and it lies south of the beautiful island Okinawa. The Philippine oceans are crystal blue, the islands are captivating. The sunsets are lovely and the beauty of the tropical trees   gives relaxation to the weary traveler.  The Philippine cities, like other cities in the world, boast of skyscrapers and bustling business areas.  The Filipinos are a hospitable and inviting people who love to sing, dance and laugh.

However, to understand the present, it is important to learn and analyze the series of past events.

Our history books vividly describe the events back when the Philippines was conquered by the mighty United States of America many decades ago. The Philippines was a colony of The United States of America from December 10, 1898 to July 4, 1946. In August 1901, a group of about 500 pioneer American teachers were sent by the US government to the Philippines. These men and women were later called Thomasites, and the term was from the name USS Thomas, the ship that transported those noble and selfless men and women from America to the Philippines. Hundreds of American teachers followed the Thomasites in 1902, and they were later assigned in various Philippine provinces. The Thomasites were sent to the Philippines to establish school systems, and to train Filipino teachers the fundamentals of teaching English. Those American teachers taught Filipinos not only English but also agriculture, reading, grammar, geography, mathematics and even domestic tasks such as sewing and crocheting.  Sports and many other matters were taught using English as the only medium of instruction. Of course this doesn’t mean that Filipinos back then didn’t know those subjects; the American teachers were simply teaching them the English language. Interestingly, prior to the arrival of the Thomasites, American soldiers were already teaching the Filipinos English. Needless to say, the everyday association of Filipinos with the Americans for almost half a century made them acquire the language naturally. This brief history explains why the Philippines has two official languages, Filipino (standardized Tagalog) and English. The English language and English ways thus became enmeshed in the Philippine culture.

Now, English is the language used in business, religious affairs, print and broadcast media. In highly complicated subjects such as medicine,  calculus, algebra, physics, chemistry, philosophy, psychology, sociology, biology and all branches of science,  English is the only medium of instruction used. English is the only language of our computers. English movies and English TV programs have no subtitles. Because English is part of the training courses from primary to tertiary education, most Filipinos can speak and understand spoken and written English.

It may be surprising to learn that there are many social classes or levels of people in the Philippines. The common people such as taxi drivers, sales clerks, house helpers and sidewalk vendors speak English but with strong Spanish or regional accent and pronunciation. Even beggars can understand English. In the mountainous provinces of Northern Luzon, the biggest island in the Philippines, it is common to see barefooted and half-naked children playing in the dirt, but if you ask them to give you  some directions, they will give you directions in English.  The highly trained people, like English teachers and other professionals speak English fluently with a neutral accent and pronunciation.  Affluent families, or those families who belong to the upper class, speak only English. Even their house helpers speak English fluently. Yes, English plays an important role in the everyday lives of Filipinos, and English is very much a part of every Filipino. 

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